Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Movie Review: Chinatown.

I recently stumbled upon an old dusty manuscript that I was writing back in what seems now eternity past, when I was free of these graying hairs and I still believed in objective film criticism. Reading the manuscript I was preparing for publication, it is interesting to see how my choice in film (and music) has changed over the years and with life experience. In any event, I have flipped through some reviews that I have written and have decided to re-watch some of my favorite films (in no particular order) and write some fresh analysis of these great films (mostly for my personal enjoyment). The first paper I randomly picked was a review of Roman Polanski's 1974 film "Chinatown".

The first impression one get's is the wonderful music that acts as the backdrop for Chinatown. This is dark noir at it's finest and I agree with those who have said the greatness of a noir film is it's opening and final scenes. And then there is Jack Nicholson who is arguably one of the foremost actors of our generation. But better than just Jack, is a young Jack Nicholson who is actually rather handsome and as full of leidenschaft as ever he was. Nicholson plays J.J Gittes a philosophical private investigator who makes this dirty work look posh and sophisticated.

Chinatown turns on the charm, humor and passion of the acting of Nicholson. If there ever was a part that an actor was "born to play" Gittes by Nicholson is definately it 1. Faye Dunaway plays a woman who claims to be someone who she is not, high cheekbones and elegance in tow. Chinatown continues with more twists and turns than the one way ally's and dirty noisy back streets of the real Chinatown 2. Chinatown is a thinking man's movie, which many today would find rather slow and contrived.

"You got a nasty reputation Mr. Gittes, I like that" are the opening words (along with a facial quirk) of John Huston (who plays Noah Cross). Huston is quite easily the other acting titan of Chinatown (besides) Nicholson and perfectly plays Noah Cross, a rich, dark and disturbing figure of a man.

The scene in which Nicholson slaps around Dunaway is so raw and brutal that one can scarcely imagine something like this being shot today. The levy finally breaks and the truth comes out. An unspeakably depraved act is revealed. The final scene is set, meeting place is Chinatown.

The ending of Chinatown 3 is classic noir, bleak and devoid of any hope. "Forget it Jake, it's Chinatown" are the haunting final words of an American classic, filmed in the greatest decade in film history.


1. One can hardly think of another actor of the time pulling off the comedic jokes and at the same time switching gears to the dark and melancholic underbelly of Los Angeles circa the 1930's.

2. Chinatown is an Asian part of greater L.A.

3. An ending which my wife abhors and I think is the reaction of the average person ignorant of the backdrop of the noir genre.

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